Honor in the military and the possible implication for the traditional separation of jus ad bellum and jus in bello

In Applied Ethics Series (Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy). pp. 94-102 (2011)
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Traditional just war theory maintains that the two types of rules that govern justice in times of war, jus ad bellum (justice of war) and jus in bello (justice in war), are logically independent of one another. Call this the independence thesis. According to this thesis, a war that satisfies the ad bellum rules does not guarantee that the in bello rules will be satisfied; and a war that violates the ad bellum rules does not guarantee that the in bello rules will be violated. A controversial implication of this is that it’s possible for soldiers to undergo acts that are instrumental in bringing about victory in an unjust war and yet do nothing morally wrong. Some authors – call them purists – claim that this cannot be correct. Participating in an unjust war is by itself morally wrong. Yitzhak Benbaji has given what is to my mind the strongest defense of the independence thesis. In this paper I critically examine Benbaji’s argument and conclude that it is not persuasive. My argument against Benbaji incorporates the concept of honor in the military. I seek to show, in part, that if the recent literature is correct concerning both the nature of honor and the importance of instilling it in soldiers, then Benbaji hasn’t given the purist a compelling reason to give up her view.

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Jacob Blair
California State University, Hayward


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